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A New “ROSEMARY’S BABY” Aims to Set Itself Apart

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On Sunday May 11, NBC unveils the first half of a new, four hour miniseres adaptation of Ira Levin’s ROSEMARY’S BABY. In 1968, horror showman William Castle produced Roman Polanski’s highly regarded 1968 film of Levin’s book in an attempt to prove to Hollywood, and to moviegoers, that he could produce a “classy” horror movie. Best known for B-movies like THE TINGLER (1959) and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1958), among others, Castle yearned for respectability. The drive-in fare he produced (complete with gimmicks such as wiring theater seats for electricity in order to “shock” viewers as he did with Tingler) were moneymakers, but Castle was never taken seriously as a filmmaker.

The horror genre wasn’t taken seriously either, in those days. Every so often a literary-minded film like THE INNOCENTS or THE HAUNTING would impress critics. As a rule though, horror films in 1968 were relegated to the drive-in, or to smaller second run theaters, where kids would line up to see the latest offerings from Hammer, AIP or Amicus.

Horror was rarely acknowledged at the Academy Awards, yet Ruth Gordon was Oscar’s choice for Best Supporting Actress after her brilliant turn as a daffy, if creepy member of a coven in ROSEMARY’S BABY. The film carried another pedigree: Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski, then the darling of the art house crowd, was hired by Castle to direct (after Castle was denied the position by Paramount). Polanski employed the same slow, moody storytelling techniques he’d used to great effect in his earlier works. ROSEMARY’S BABY shot primarily on location at the iconic Dakota apartment building in New York City, was an eerie, dialogue heavy, character driven supernatural drama.  It was completely devoid of the shocks usually associated with the genre.

Polanski dug deep into the soul of Rosemary (a star-making turn from Mia Farrow) and let viewers know exactly who she was. The audience went with Rosemary on her voyage of discovery as she gradually uncovers the diabolical, Satanic plot happening right under her nose in the middle of ordinary, big city life.

There had never before been a horror movie quite like ROSEMARY’S BABY. Moviegoers, many of them newcomers to the genre, were mesmerized. ROSEMARY’S BABY went on to achieve classic status, not merely as a horror film, but as one of cinema’s all time greats.

Naturally eyebrows were raised when NBC announced its remake. Many shrugged and wondered why. Certain films, cinema lovers argue, should be considered untouchable.

The new film comes with a pedigree of its own. The director is Agnieszka Holland, one of Polanski’s fellow Poles. Holland brings her own legacy of acclaimed filmmaking to the table, and is in fact considered one of her country’s greatest directors.  Her films EUROPA EUROPA (1990) and OLIVIER, OLIVIER (1992) were embraced and honored by audiences worldwide. Though she went on to work in Hollywood and at HBO (she’s directed episodes of TREME and THE WIRE), she continues to make films in Poland. There is hope that Holland’s distinct touch will ensure that the new Rosemary’s Baby is a cut above other remakes.

There will be distinct differences between Polanski’s film and Holland’s. The new film abandons New York City and instead, is set in Paris. When newlyweds Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Zoe Saldana, Patrick J. Adams) meet their neighbors, the Satanic Castevets, (Jason Isaacs, Carole Bouquet), they’ll fall under the spell of a wealthy couple considerably younger than the spooky seniors played by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer in 1968.

Patrick J. Adams assures Fango that fans of the original have nothing to worry about. “We expand on it,” he said. “We go into darker corners. We didn’t see a lot of Guy in the original, but in our version you see more of what these characters are going through. That’s what drew me to it. You see both sides of the coin in our film. You have Rosemary, the person trying to figure out the truth, and then there’s Guy, who knows what the truth is.”

The actor described his character as a “good man who loves his wife. He would do anything for her. He’s offered something that would change their lives forever. He sees what is possible, and he turns a blind eye to the consequences. He sees Roman Castevet as this incredibly intoxicating man. Guy wants that for himself and his wife, and he’s slowly drawn in.”

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But is it scary? “We go for it,” Adams said. “I didn’t see a lot of the stuff, but I heard stories from the crew and from Zoe Saldana. I think it’s going to be pretty terrifying. Holland is an incredibly talented filmmaker. Zoe is a strong woman, so different from Mia Farrow. And now the story is directed by a woman, who can relate to the process of being a mother.”

“I believe that Rosemary is a strong, passionate woman but has a vulnerable side, which the evil and deviant people around her really prey on,” Saldana adds. “It’s still Rosemary, so I’m sure you will find similarities, but no imitations. Mia Farrow delivered an amazing performance that can never be touched. I followed my heart and tried to bring life to the Rosemary I felt and saw after reading the book and reading the script.”

On its source material, Saldana says, “I read the book and I thought it was a terrifying thriller, way ahead of its time. I think the film is one of the finest classic horror movies ever made. The way Mia Farrow portrayed the loss of innocence and paranoia throughout the film was incredible.”

The star continues to set the 2014 iteration apart however. She tells Fango, “I had several discussions and meetings with Holland, as well as with the producers and writers. I feel it’s an amazing collaboration and I respect the incredible fans of the original film. I don’t want it to seem like we were copying or imitating anything but were adapting the book. I read the book and really tried to discover the small nuances that Rosemary possesses to truly bring her to life. I hope the miniseries will invoke fear in viewers and that they feel that they are a part of this truly horrific story that Rosemary endures.

ROSEMARY’S BABY premieres on NBC on Sunday, May 11 at 9PM. Part two will air Thursday May 15, 9PM.

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About the author
David-Elijah Nahmod
David-Elijah Nahmod is an American-Israeli half breed who has lived in New York City and Tel Aviv. Currently in San Francisco, his eclectic writing career includes a variety of horror mags, LGBT publications, and SF Weekly. He was thrilled and honored to be named Best Reviewer of 2012 at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. You can find him on Facebook (David-Elijah Nahmod, Author) and Twitter (@DavidElijahN)
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